Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Jan. 2, 2006

Strange year for ice

The thickness of the ice spanned from the tip of my middle finger to the very tip of my thumb. That’s about eight inches.

About five inches was clear good ice, the other three inches was compacted snow.

That’s what I found from an ice fishing adventure on local lakes just before Christmas.

Since then, the temperatures, even at night, have been warm for this time year and definitely not good for making ice.

During that day of ice fishing I drilled a number of holes on several area lakes and didn’t find a location that had more than six inches of solid ice.

Most locations had four to five inches of good ice, and four to five inches of compacted or slushy snow.

Not enough good ice for vehicle traffic, or even snowmobile traffic, and in some location may be even questionable for foot traffic because the good ice was only a few inches thick.

So far, it’s just been a strange year for ice. A slow start, several freeze and thaw cycles, a blanket of snow that is mostly now melted, have all created ice conditions that are not the norm for this time of year.

Regarding ice conditions, in today’s column I have included a press release from the DNR on current ice conditions and ice safety.

DNR provides guidelines for vehicles on ice
From the DNR

With the unseasonably warm temperatures in Minnesota, ice thicknesses on lakes, ponds and streams vary from open water to 14 inches or more in the northern part of the state.

On lakes in the southern half of the state, several cars, pickups and SUVs have fallen through the ice. Snowmobiles have even broken through the ice.

“To date, no one has been killed, but that has been more due to luck than anything else,” said Tim Smalley, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) water safety specialist.

Most vehicles that have gone through the ice so far have been parked too close together for current ice conditions, according to Smalley.

“Normally by now, folks would be driving on the ice with few problems, but we are having an abnormal year,” he said.

Ice is not really that solid, like blacktop or concrete on the ground.

Smalley said it might be better to think about the surface of a frozen lake as thinly rolled dough stretched over a hoop. Place a large marble on the dough and, like ice, it sags in the middle but it doesn’t break.

“If you put enough marbles next to each other on the dough, eventually it’s going to give way,” Smalley said.

The Koochiching County Sheriff’s Office closed Rainy Lake in northern Minnesota Dec. 27 to car and truck traffic due to poor ice conditions.

“If it’s that bad on the Canadian border waters, imagine what its like on some of the lakes farther south,” Smalley said. “If we get a nice cold snap, conditions could improve in a few days.”

Scientists who study ice recommend parking passenger-size vehicles 60 feet apart on eight inches of new clear ice, not the door-to-door parking lot style that is often seen on Minnesota lakes.

Another issue is much of the ice now is white or “milky” ice rather than the stronger clear ice.

“The milky appearance comes from air bubbles trapped in between ice crystals, which weakens the ice considerably,” Smalley said. “You need twice as much of the white as you do clear ice.”

Guidelines recommend a bare minimum of eight inches of new clear ice for small- to medium - size cars, SUVs and pickup trucks.

Since white ice is only half as strong as clear ice, a vehicle may need 16 or more inches of ice.

DNR officials recommend that people who are planning a day on the ice check with a local bait shop or resort on the lake where they are headed for the most current ice conditions.

For those who must drive on the ice, the DNR offers these safety tips.

• Check the ice often, at least every 150 feet or more often if the ice thicknesses are found to be quite variable.

• Leave at least 60 feet between vehicles parked on ice and drill a hole in the ice near your car.

If water overflows the edges of the hole, move the vehicle immediately; it is starting to sink.

Also, if you see concentric cracks circling around the perimeter of the vehicle, it is time to move it.

• Don’t drive on the ice at night if at all possible; a newly opened hole might not be visible in low light conditions.

• Leave windows down, seatbelts unbuckled and doors ajar for a quick exit if the vehicle breaks through.

• Drive across wet cracks in the ice as close to perpendicular as possible and assume the ice strength is one-half that of new solid clear ice.

• Bail out as soon as the car starts to break through. Don’t wait for it to settle to the bottom.

Cars often turn upside down as they sink, which combined with freezing water, make breath holding more difficult and limit visibility.

Mud pushing against the doors can make escape nearly impossible.

• Don’t drive faster than 15 miles per hour. Faster speeds can cause waves in the ice, much like a boat’s wake in the summer, that can cause already weak ice to shatter.

• If there has been a recent large snowstorm, the added weight of the snow represents an added stress on the ice.

Heavy snow may force the top of the ice to become submerged. Water then seeps up through surface cracks causing a layer of slush. Until the slush refreezes, keep vehicles off the ice.

For more information on ice safety, contact the Minnesota DNR at (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367). Those with Internet access can go to

DNR hosts first podcast show on ice fishing
From the DNR

For all the Apple Ipods, Dell DJs, Creative Zens and dozen or so other brands of portable audio players that were given as gifts this holiday season, the DNR has just released a ‘podcast’ called “Ice Fishing Tips” for recipients to try them out on.

“A podcast is similar to a radio show only instead of tuning it in on the radio, you download it from the DNR Web site to your computer and then transfer it to a player. That way you can listen to it on the go,” said Tim Smalley, DNR information officer and safety specialist. “They are called podcasts because of the popularity of Apple’s Ipod, but they can be played on anything that will play an MP3 audio file.”

“Ice Fishing Tips” features a 30-minute interview with Terry Tuma, Minnesota-based outdoor writer, fishing guru and angling instructor.

This is believed to be the first-ever podcast on the topic.

“Ice fishing has become a fairly high tech activity, with many winter anglers becoming tech-savvy by using fish locators, GPS units and underwater video cameras,” Smalley said. “By putting fishing information in an easy-to-access format on the Web, we hope to not only encourage ice fishing, but also help anglers be successful and safe while they are on the ice.”

Topics covered include how to dress for comfort against the cold while ice fishing; basic equipment like shelters, rods, bait and electronics such as locators and underwater video; and how and where to find the fish.

“We were lucky to get Terry to help us with this project,” said Smalley. “He is not just an expert angler, but he is a gifted teacher. Terry puts on dozens of fishing seminars throughout the year, so he knows how to convey his knowledge to anglers in an understandable and entertaining way. I have sat in on a few of his classes and he really knows his audience and they relate to him.”

“I also chime in on ice safety and survival and where to go to learn more,” Smalley added.

People don’t even need an MP3 player to hear the show. All listeners really need is a computer, Internet access and audio software that will play MP3 files.

The “Ice Fishing Tips” podcast is available on the DNR Web site by going to

“Just about any 12-year-old will be able to tell you how to download the show to your computer and audio player,” Smalley said. “Or, if worse comes to worst, you could always read the instructions that came with your player’s software. I’m over 50 and even I could do it.”

DNR reminds anglers that licenses are good through February
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds anglers the 2005 license year runs through the end of Feb. 28, so customers can still use their licenses for a couple more months.

“Each year, we have customers wanting to purchase a new license in January thinking their license has expired, but that is not the case,” explained Steve Michaels, DNR Electronic Licensing System program manager.

The new 2006 license year begins March 1. Licenses go on sale Feb. 18 and can be purchased at any of the 1,800 license agents throughout the state, online at or by phone at 1-888-665-4236.

A $3.50 convenience fee will be charged for Internet and phone sales.

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